Major League Baseball: New York Yankees and Houston Astros among American League contenders

 | February 15 | 

5 mins read

World Series trophy

It is in mid-February that Florida and Arizona become the centre of the baseball world. Spring Training is surely the most highly anticipated pre-season in any sport, and the clamour surrounding Shohei Ohtani’s extraordinary $700m deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers has already made 2024 a year like almost no other.

So as pitchers and catchers start to get their work in, here’s how the American League’s big World Series hopes are shaping up as the MLB season begins to come into view with plenty of big free-agency moves still to be made. Don’t worry, NL fans, your dose will arrive in the coming days…

American League Champions Odds

  • Houston Astros - 9/2
  • New York Yankees - 9/2
  • Texas Rangers - 11/2
  • Baltimore Orioles - 15/2
  • Toronto Blue Jays - 15/2

Houston Astros – 10/1 for World Series, 9/2 for AL pennant

After the retirement of veteran manager Dusty Baker, it is the great man’s former bench coach, Joe Espada, who leads the Astros in their mission to reach an eighth straight American League Championship Series in 2024. He has been boosted by the five-year, $125m contract extension handed to star second baseman Jose Altuve, and negotiations with 3B Alex Bregman ought to end similarly favourably.

Josh Hader has been their biggest offseason addition so far, signing the explosive lefty closer to a five-year, $95m deal, while Victor Caratini comes in at catcher to replace Martin Maldonado, who joined the Chicago White Sox after electing free agency.

There has to be a concern over the fitness of Justin Verlander, who has been hampered by injuries in recent years and will face a race against the clock to be fit for opening day because of what he has called a “little hiccup” with his right shoulder. He’s also about to turn 41, which could play a role in his workload.

The Astros can never be discounted, hence their joint-favouritism, but they might be a wait-and-see prospect at this point given Espada’s lack of a track record.

Astros to win World Series at 10/1

New York Yankees – 10/1 for World Series, 9/2 for AL pennant

The Yankees haven’t won an American League pennant in their last 14 attempts, which –discounting the 1994 strike-curtailed season – hasn’t happened since 1903 to 1920, back in the early days of the unified major leagues. It’s fair to say it’s high time the biggest name in world sports is long overdue another visit to the World Series.

The acquisition of Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres as part of a seven-player trade spoke of their desire to challenge for the AL East again this year, with outfielder Alex Verdugo coming in from the Boston Red Sox and Marcus Stroman added on a two-year, $37m contract to supplement the starting rotation after he decided not to activate his option on another season with the Chicago Cubs.

With Soto, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu and more in the ranks, the Yankees definitely have the power, while the pitching staff is led by Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon and Stroman, giving Aaron Boone few excuses if they miss out on play-off baseball once again.

Texas Rangers – 12/1 for World Series, 11/2 for AL pennant

Bruce Bochy’s phenomenal relationship with success continued in 2023, when his first season as Texas Rangers skipper ended with the club’s first-ever World Series title.

Since then they have picked up Tyler Mahle from the Minnesota Twins and back-up catcher Andrew Knizner from the St Louis Cardinals. Arguably their biggest move, though, was the retention of postseason hero Adolis Garcia, avoiding arbitration in the process, and they also re-signed Travis Jankowski.

The much-travelled David Robertson arrives on a one-year contract to give them a new setup option for Jose Leclerc after the departure of Aroldis Chapman, who has signed a single-year agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It would be asking a lot for the Rangers to go back-to-back, but Bochy’s World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014 showed his ability to keep a team hungry for more.

Baltimore Orioles – 16/1 for World Series, 15/2 for AL pennant

The Orioles were the second-best team in baseball over the course of the regular season in 2023, but their postseason fell flat in no time at all. Despite boasting talents like Adley Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle, AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson and Austin Hays in their regular lineup, they couldn’t transfer their 101-win form into success in their 3-0 Division Series loss to the Rangers.

Corbin Burnes is the big arrival from the Milwaukee Brewers, the exceptional right-handed starter – a former Cy Young Award winner, no less – being set to earn $15.6m in the final year of the contract the Orioles picked up in the trade which saw Joey Ortiz and DL Hall sent to Wisconsin.

Manager Brandon Hyde has ridden the rough waves with the O’s in their building phase, but if he is to get more than this one more crack at delivering hardware then Baltimore will need to last much longer in the play-offs in 2024.

Orioles to win AL pennant at 15/2

Toronto Blue Jays – 16/1 for World Series, 15/2 for AL pennant

Any team going into another season with both Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and George Springer in their everyday lineup is not going to go too far wrong. Vlad won a record-breaking arbitration case in the offseason, and will command a $19.9m salary in 2024 as a result, meaning the Jays are paying a fair whack but ought to have a happy slugger in their ranks over 162 games.

They’ve also added a handy bat in Justin Turner on a one-year, $13m deal, with Isiah Kiner-Falefa coming over from the division-rival Yankees and Kevin Kiermaier re-signing in a $12.5m agreement.

John Schneider has some great arms in the rotation, with Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Jose Berrios among their top-line options, but they might need everything to come together at the exact right time to pose a serious challenge in October.

 

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